Old Geezer (a.k.a. Mike Monard, a member of Gary Gygax and Dave Arnerson’s game groups) is answering lots of questions on this thread on RPG.Net. The thread is an interesting reading for fans wanting to know more about our hobby’s history and for Gamemasters in general that are curious about how things were done back in “ye olde days”.
What prompted me to write this spot was this bit of information by Mike, while he was addressing how they saw the entire idea of “balance” in OD&D:
Original ArgumentBalance comes exclusively from role protection. You can do your thing, I can do my thing, and it's very, very hard for me to do both my thing and your thing at the same time.Old Geezer’s AnswerWhich is a major shift in the game. OD&D does not assume that we will be adventuring together. Though all four character types are useful, none are necessary. Clerics fight almost as well as a fighter so they're good for defense, but in a real melee combat the fighter will shine over time. It's nice to have magic users, but once you have magic weapons and some good clerical spells, you can dispense with them if necessary. Et cetera. There is no "you will not succeed if you do not have the following things in your team." You may WANT them, but they are not necessary.In OD&D the highest level of play was solo adventuring, no henchmen, NPCs, or team. Just you.
This is really interesting stuff and it creates a “new” (for me at least) framework for high-level campaigns in D&D (and d20 and Pathfinder in general). It made me want to run such “solo” games but – given the way that today’s group dynamics work – it might work better as a troupe style game. Each player would get an adventure for his high-level character, while the other players would act as his followers and Cohort (speaking in terms of 3rd Edition/d20 games).
This playing style also addresses a recurrent problem in my (short lived) high level campaigns: verisimilitude. It’s often hard for me to created plausible (and frequent) hooks and adventures for the ENTIRE high-level party to participle. After so many sessions, encounters, adventures etc its normal for my players to have multiple personal goals and side quests (Adventure Paths are an exception because they’re not written by me… and even them I’m noticing that my current players already have multiple side-quests at my Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign).
It just makes more sense for me that each powerful PC would eventually have his own agenda and adventures, disconnected from the original group (excepted in special occasions). In fact, I know many campaigns (including mine) where, when you stop to look and think, there isn’t really any excuse for a party of high-level medieval superheroes to be walking together around wildlands/dungeons anymore. High-level PCs should only work together when their goals/challenges converge. If the party’s 13th level Fighter wants to kill that dragon that is plaguing his lands it makes sense that he’ll call for his old friends’ assistance. Et cetera.
That’s something that I hope to try in future games; maybe after the main plot of Curse of the Crimson Throne is concluded.
Another interesting speculation brought up in thread is the role of the thief (from Supplement I: Greyhawk) on OD&D and how the class plays really well alone – or just acting as a general scout/spy of the party.